Ha ha ha. That got you, didn’t it? What’s that plaguey saucebox, Bennetts, on about now, you asked yourself.
So, who invented the submarine and the torpedo?
Yes, yes, I know…Leonardo da Vinci drew pictures of them in his famed notebooks and therefore technically invented them. But he invented nearly everything, so he doesn’t count.
No, this is about an American inventor and businessman, by the name of Robert Fulton. He was from Pennsylvania. And initially, he tried to sell his idea for a submarine to the French…from about 1798, when of course the Naval war with the British was really beginning to heat up.
His prototype worked fairly well too–they were able to steer the thing using the compass points, and they remained under the water for about an hour.
But the French, despite their need of something new and splendid against the Brits, weren’t buying. And despite all Fulton’s efforts by 1804, Napoleon had said ‘No’. (Remember by 1804, they’d already lost spectacularly to the British at Aboukir Bay in ’98 and Copenhagen in ’01, so they should have been in the market for something…)
So Fulton took his plans and scarpered across the Channel to the English. He was joined in his work by a chappie called Johnson–official title ‘Johnson the Smuggler’ whom the French had unsuccessfully tried to turn so that he’d spy for them.
Anyway…Johnson had been employed by the Secret Service, as were many smugglers, for gathering information in the Channel and for landing agents in France. So he knew his way around the place.
Fulton was the first person to use the word torpedo–taking the name from Torpedo nobiliana, a rather nasty little ray which stunned its prey by means of an electric shock.
They’re quite nifty little contrivances, these early torpedos, or carcasses as most people called them: “made of copper, and…spherical in form; hollow to receive their charge of powder, which by means of machinery, that worked interiorly, and so secured as to be perfectly watertight, exploded at the precise moment that you chose to set it to.”
And the plan was mainly to weight the bombs with ballast to be almost invisible, then attach them to enemy warships by stealth, probably undercover of darkness.
And this is exactly what the British did, using the torpedos against the French fleet assembled at Boulogne. Ka-ba-ba-BOOOM!
(Whoops! Got that one wrong, Boney, didn’t you?)